YANGON, Myanmar - The democratic opposition’s victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections may have sown the seeds of something far more significant than the few seats it won: the possibility it could sweep the next balloting in 2015 and take control of Myanmar’s government.
For now, that remains only a tantalizing dream for supporters of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. Making it happen in three years’ time may be unrealistic in a nation still heavily influenced by a feared military whose powers and influence remain enshrined in the constitution.
Still, hope for installing a truly free government has not run this high in decades.
“We hope this will be the beginning of a new era,’’ a beaming 66-year-old Suu Kyi said in a brief victory speech Monday, one day after the by-election in which her National League for Democracy party won almost all of the 44 seats it contested.
The win was “not so much our triumph, as a triumph of the people,’’ she told a euphoric, thousands-strong crowd gathered outside her tumbledown party headquarters in Yangon, where joyous supporters thrust hands in the air and monks cradled magazine-size posters bearing her image.
The last time her party won a landslide victory, during a general election in 1990, the then-ruling army junta annulled the results and stayed in power 21 more years.
Times have changed dramatically since then in Myanmar, previously called Burma. The junta is no more, and the country’s new leaders - many of whom are former generals - have proven with Sunday’s poll that they are capable of taking concrete steps toward democratic rule, even if they had little to lose by doing so this time around.
But much remains the same: The military and the retired generals who hold the nation’s top posts still wield near-absolute power, and Suu Kyi and her party will occupy only a small minority in the 664-seat legislature - not enough to change a constitution engineered to keep the status quo by allotting 25 percent of Parliament’s seats to the army.